Things to Do in Bangkok
Use MeetUp to Make New Friends: Board Game Night at Ninive
On a whim we checked out MeetUp to see what was going on in Bangkok during our visit and found a group that met throughout the week for Board Game Nights. Nerd alert! We wound up going a couple times and enjoyed meeting both expats and locals who just enjoyed playing and teaching each other new games. It’s held at a game shop called Ninive that also has a small pizza oven, so you essentially go to play and order a pizza to cover your play costs. The pizzas are tasty though a tad expensive for pizza, but the MeetUps were fun and we met some rad people there. We learned from our new friends that MeetUp is really big in Bangkok so definitely a worthwhile resource! Playing board games was the most unexpected thing but led to one of the more memorable activities for us in Bangkok.
Take a Cooking Class
Thailand is the land of fiery flavors and if you’re not a fan of the heat, taking a cooking class is the best way to learn how to make your Thai favorites without the burn. We love Thai food (and I cannot take much heat) so we took at class at Silom Cooking school. They have great facilities and friendly workers who do all the clean up and much of the prep for you. The handful of hours are spent with a brief visit to the nearby Silom market to talk about common ingredients used in Thai recipes and then cooking and eating each dish as you go. You will have a chef’s knife and board to cut your ingredients and a small wok to cook all the dishes in, so some basic skills are expected of you, but all of the steps are simple.
The class moves quite quickly so there is no time to take notes though there will be a few pauses to take photos. They’ll cover making coconut milk and cream and curry paste from scratch. You’ll receive a recipe book but it does not contain much of the general info about the ingredients they’ll go over in the beginning of class. Note that for the afternoon class, the “market tour” is superfluous, as the market is already pretty much closed by then, so either reserve a morning session if you’re really interested in the market or skip it with the evening session. Overall the class is well run and the dishes were delicious.
Visit a Temple
Bangkok is known for its numerous and ornate temples so even if you’re not religious or a fan of temples, you’ll want to check at at least one to get a taste of Thai culture. We chose to visit the Buddhist temple Wat Arun, or the Temple of Dawn, named after Aruna (or Surya in Hinduism), the rising sun. This wat is meant to represent Mount Meru, the center of Buddhist cosmology, through architecture. As with any temple, make sure to have your knees and shoulders covered: they’re fairly lenient on the length of men’s shorts but if the shawl slipped off a girl’s shoulders, whistles were blown.
I was curious when I read about the use of porcelain and shells, so we visited on a late afternoon hoping to catch the golden hour. Unfortunately the temple does close before sunset and in June the weather can be rather stormy so we had mostly clouds. They provided relief from the hot sun though, so we were able to take our time rounding the pinnacle and looking into the 4 towers. The porcelain mosaics were stunning in their colors and multitudes: there was something about the many pieces brought together to make a whole.
Visit the Weekend Market and (maybe) watch a Muy Thai Fight
We headed up north on a Sunday to squeeze the Chatuchak Market and the Muy Thai fights at Channel 7 stadium into one day. The Channel 7 Stadium is right next to the market as well as the Queen Sirikit Park, so the morning could be spent at the Market, have lunch, then head to the Stadium to grab seats before 2pm, and maybe end the evening with a stroll through the park. We weren’t sure about bringing our cameras in, though from the blogs it seems as though people have taken photos and video recordings of their own just fine. While we didn’t make it in time to catch the fights, so we can’t speak more to that but there’s a great resource linked down in the details below.
The Chatuchak Market was quite fun despite its sheer mass and the unrelenting heat. The food options are a bit scattered but the best thing we tried were the pandan pancakes just outside the big Tak Thai restaurant stalls in the market, where we had lunch (unremarkable). If you’re looking for some cute boutique clothing and accessories beyond the typical elephant pants, head to Section 3. Looking for some more significant pieces or some unique paintings? Head to Section 7 for the fine art. The Chatuchak Market does have bathrooms: it’ll cost 5 THB, super clean but there’s no toilet paper. Most of the souvenir type goods will be available in multiple stalls, so if you have the time, do shop around and bargain for the best price; if you’re in a rush, just try to bargain at the first stall you’re at, as it can be a bit difficult navigating the market and trying to find a stall you were at before.
Get a Massage
If there was ever a time to pamper yourself, Bangkok is the place to get a massage or even a full spa treatment. I found that Dahra Spa (Silom location) had excellent reviews online and they have some significant promotions listed online. I booked their Full Spa treatment for 50% off: 2450 Baht ($80) for 3:45h of a body scrub, body wrap, aromatherapy massage and facial.
Dahra Spa has a calm and elegant vibe with very pleasant service. I received the chocolate scrub (though there was barely any chocolate scent), green tea wrap and green tea facial in a private room with a shower so that I could wash off after the scrub and again after the wrap. Basically, I was mildly massaged throughout the scrub and the wrap so it was almost like a 3 hour massage. Be aware that they’ll rub down your whole body including armpits, chest and belly, so you may want to let them ahead of time if you’d prefer otherwise. My masseuse was very professional and had very strong hands. Overall I think the service was excellent and would highly recommend.
Go Shopping, Visit a Gallery or Watch a Movie
While we’re not big shoppers, malls typically are the place to be when you’re in any South East Asian country. We had to run some errands to restock our supplies and look for swimming goggles so we headed to out to the shopping centers (yes plural). We started at Siam Square 1 Mall, where we found a beautiful leather goods boutique called Labrador and also grabbed some boba from our favorite international chain The Alley Cafe. Right next door is the MBK center, where we hit up Tokyu department store for the Speedo goggles and Boots (a popular personal care chain) to re-up on mosquito repellent. They have a decent mix of stores and smaller vendors or even souvenir stands here, in case you don’t want to brave the Weekend Market.
For those looking for more unique shops with a creative vibe, head across the way to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. This is where you’ll find craft stalls and boutique stores, a great bike shop, cafes and ongoing free exhibits. The Happening and Friends was a favorite store with patches, books and even CDs! There was a wonderful travel photography exhibit “serenity in chaos”, an impressive botanical collection from local painters and some rather experimental video installations. After all your browsing, grab a scoop at iceDea. The creamy texture and good variety of classic and Thai flavors crowned this ice cream shop as the first legit ice cream we’ve had in a while. The shop is decorated with a little exhibit for all the creative ice cream “catering” they’ve done for special events and how they customized the ice cream for it. Try their Thai sweet waffle and red velvet berry!
To catch up on some of the latest movies, we headed over to the Paragon, the luxury mall, to watch John Wick 3. In Bangkok and also Singapore movie theaters, they play almost 30 minutes worth of commercials and previews at “showtime” before actually playing the movie. Specifically in Bangkok they also play the anthem and show an image of the King and everyone stands to show respect.
What to Eat in Bangkok
Thailand is known for its street food, so we spent most of our meal times foraging among the vendors in our neighborhood just outside the BTS Bang Wa station. With our long stay, we became regulars with the lady who had dim sum style dumplings and spring rolls, the guy with spicy lettuce wraps, the couple with the meat skewers, the older couple with the best fried green onion cakes, and the other fried chicken guy that we had once and waited for over a week to see him again. There were also a couple sushi stalls which weren’t bad, but were priced the same as home, so rather expensive when compared to everything else available.
We also got familiar with the vendors in the little food court near the station called BTS Food Land, one of our favorite spots to get pad thai. They have a limited menu in English, but the servers also speak a little English and are very kind. Another favorite of ours next door was the Cha Payom cafe where we got an cocoa iced tea almost every other day. On the other side of Phet Kasem road, east of the BTS station, there’s the Seni Market which has both food stalls as well as a produce market. We visited during the lunch hour and it was pretty quiet with only a few food stalls open, so we suspect that it’s more of a nighttime place.
If you manage to make it further west down the Phet Kasem to where they’re still constructing the MRT station, you’ll find Bangwa Pork Leg Restaurant, where you can sit amongst locals and taste some of the most flavorful pork rice and short rib soup. Just be prepared to order using Google photos on your phone or something, as there are no menus or English speakers. The restaurant is a pretty busy place with lots of staff but not a lot of service, but the food is amazing: if you’re ever on this end of the city, do not miss the Bangwa Pork Leg Restaurant.
No matter where you’re based, try to get to Lek Seafood right by Chong Nongsi station. Lek Seafood has some of the most flavorful dishes: we went back twice. The restaurant is frequented by locals and tourists alike but the pricing is quite fair. We tried their pineapple fried rice, curry crab and fried morning glory shoots with pork. Their pineapple rice was the best I’ve ever had: fresh sweet cooked pineapples and super tender seafood (squid, shrimp) and a hint of curry powder in the rice. Insider tip: use the fish sauce they provide, it adds a whole other dimension!
The curry crab was more like a runny fluffy egg dish, you’ll want to have some rice to eat with it. The greens and pork had a great garlicky gravy. Our second visit we tried the steamed bass, glass noodles with shrimp, crab fried rice and fried kale. The bass was so soft (huge portion though) and the glass noodles were really savory. For dessert, don’t skip out on their mango sticky rice, it was the best we had so far with a mild but very creamy mango and flavorful sticky rice. Our best meals in Thailand definitely came from Lek Seafood; casual service with a little bit of English and excellent food quality.
Speaking of desserts, some of our other favorite sweets were the pandan pancakes from a vendor in the Chatuchak Market and ice cream from iceDea at the BACC.
If you’re taking a water taxi and stepping out of the Saphan Taksin neighborhood, give Palam Palam Bangkok a try. A cute little Japanese cafe with more drinks than food, but it’s got a pleasant calm vibe despite the traffic noises outside. Sip your coffee to some soothing jazz and enjoy the AC. We had their Kra Pao for lunch: tasty but fairly spicy and they use a good chocolate for their mocha frappe. Carl had their honey lavender cold brew, which had a nice subtle flavor.
We stayed for 2 weeks and with the longer stay, was able to enjoy this quieter less touristy end of Bangkok. Due to its location we wouldn’t recommend it for a shorter stay or if you like being close to the action. The cozy apartment is in a newly built building, no businesses are open just yet. They happened to set up the shrine and hold a ceremony during our stay, presumably to bless the businesses that would begin to open up soon. (711, nail salon, cafe, laundry service…) Unfortunately it wasn’t quite supplied, for our long booking there was only one roll of toilet paper, luckily when we asked, Sumantha had someone drop off some more into the mailbox.
The “kitchen” is a kitchen space but there are no actual cooking tools (knife or stove), just 2 sets of dishes, a full fridge, a water kettle and a microwave. Keep the drains in the bathroom covered when not in use as the pipings have a smell and one night we found a cockroach which we assume came through the pipes. The gym is small but usually not overflowing, it’s advertised as opening at 8am but is always unlocked by 7am. At times the small pool gets fairly busy, but early morning swims were mostly empty.
While there are tables to possibly do work in the lobby, there is no wifi. Overall a good base for Bangkok if you’re looking for a less touristy experience and/or not in a hurry (takes an hour to get to most attractions). There are some really great street food vendors out by Bang Wa station, so you can survive without a kitchen for the shorter stays.
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Vaccinations: Routine Vaccinations, Hep A, Typhoid. Check with your doctor.
Mosquito problems: Not much of a problem in the city, but I was bitten once at the Queen Sirikit Park.
Problems for tattoos: None
Traveling as a woman: Standard Precautions
Getting Around in Bangkok
We arrived at about noon to the Suvarnabhumi Airport and immigration was simple enough to get through with just the quick fingerprints scan. To get into the city, take the Bangkok Airport Rail Link to connect to either BTS or MRT. You’ll want to have cash if you plan to take the trains as the machines don’t take card. Depending on the line you’ll either receive a token or a single trip card which gets collected at the end of your trip.
If you’re in town for a longer stay, you can get the BTS rabbit card, which can be purchased at the station ticket window – you need passport and cash to buy and top up. The card does save you a constant trip to the ticket machines, but to top up you have to go to the ticket window and pay cash (in 100 THB increments). However, if you have LINE pay, you can connect the accounts and use your LINE account to pay for the rabbit card. Remember that the BTS and MRT are not integrated lines, so check which line you’ll be based near to see which payment method makes the most sense for you.
Useful Thai Phrases
Here are some useful Thai phrases we collected shown phonetically. The polite particles “ka” and “krup” are used by females and males respectively to add formality to any phrase. Note that the “r” is often dropped in “krup” so it sounds like “kup”.
Greetings & Common Questions
Hello Sa Wat Dee
Thank You Kop Koon (ka/krup)
Yes / No Chai / Mai Chai
Excuse Me Kor Tot
I Don’t Understand Mai Khao Jai
Can you speak English? Pood paasaa anggrit dai mai
Can I take a photo? Kaw taai-ruup daai mai?
Can I have the wifi? kaw ra-hat waai -faai daai-mai?
Bathroom hong nam
Food & Restaurants
Have You Eaten Yet Gin Khao Lou Mai?
I’m Hungry Hiu (hee-yoo)
Not Spicy Mai ped
A little Spicy phet nit nawy
Very spicy ped mak mak
I would like… pad thai ao… pad thai
Delicious Aroi (a-roy)
Bill please kep tang or check bin
Excuse me (to server) khun krup/ka
Want some? Ao mai?
Yes/No Ao/ Mai Ao
Money & Numbers
How much is this? Tao Rai? (Tow–rye)
Too expensive Phaeng Mark Pai (feng-mak-pie)
Do you have small notes? kun mii beng yawi mai?
I only have.. Chan mii kae (chang me kah) …
change ngern tawn/dtang tawn (nyunn tawn/dahng tawn)
money/bank note Baeng
20 baht Baeng yii sip
30 saam sip
40 see sip
50 baht Baeng haa sip
60 hok sip…
100 nung rawr
100 baht baeng rawi (roar)
500 baht baeng haa rawi
1000 baht baeng pan
6 hok (hawk)
8 baept (beht)
9 gao (gow)
11 sip-et (21 yi-sip-et, 31 saam-sip-et)
Currency: 0.32 THB = 1 USD
Tipping is not necessary, but appreciated.
$30-40/person: This was for 16 evenings in Bangkok in AirBnB apartment by Bang Wa station. They falsely claimed to have a kitchen, so we were unable to cook any meals, but luckily the street vendors by the station were excellent and very affordable. We made do with breakfasts from 711 and ate mostly at the street vendors. We took a cooking class and got a massage. We mainly walked and took BTS.
Some typical costs
- Airtrain to Praya Thai: 45 THB
- Assorted Dumplings from street vendor: 200 THB
- Pad Thai from BTS Food Land: 50 THB
- Iced coffee from Cha Payom: 50 THB
- Silom Thai Cooking Class: $30
- AirBnB apartment: $18/night
Bang Wa BTS Station, สวน เลียบ, Khwaeng Pak Khlong Phasi Charoen, Khet Phasi Charoen – The end of the BTS line and the neighborhood we were based in. Less touristy and much quieter, we enjoyed most of the night street food vendors right outside the station.
BTS Food Land, 1/15 Phet Kasem Rd, $ – Little restaurant and food court near Bang Wa BTS station, our favorite place to get affordable and tasty pad thai.
Seni market, ตลาดเสนีย์, 194 Phet Kasem Rd, $ – Produce market with food stalls, though the food stalls are mostly open at night.
Bangwa Pork Leg Restaurant, ร้านบางหว้าขาหมู, 246 Phet Kasem Rd, $ – Amazing and affordable pork restaurant! There are no menus and no English speakers so we ordered by showing photos on our phone.
MBK Center, เอ็มบีเค เซ็นเตอร์, 444 Phayathai Rd, $-$$ – Shopping center with a variety of department stores and smaller stall vendors. You can find everything from souvenirs to every day things.
Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, หอศิลปวัฒนธรรมแห่งกรุงเทพมหานคร, 939 Rama I Rd – Neat art gallery meets creative shopping center, you can browse the various art exhibits for free and do some boutique shopping at the same time. IceDea ice cream is located inside.
Wat Arun, วัดอรุณราชวรารามราชวรมหาวิหาร, 158 Thanon Wang Doem, Khwaeng Wat Arun, $ – A stunning temple completely decorated with shards of colorful porcelain pieces, make sure to be dressed appropriately, as they are very strict about it.
Chatuchak Weekend Market, chatuchakmarket.org, ตลาดนัดจตุจักร, สวนจตุจักร Kamphaeng Phet 2 Rd – Popular and now very touristy marketplace for everything from souvenirs, fine art, home goods and clothes. There are food stalls all over and a main food area. There are paid bathrooms, bring small change.
Muy Thai fights at Channel 7 stadium, chatuchakmarket.org, 998/1, 998/1 วิภาวดีรังสิต Chom Phon, Chatuchak, Free – We didn’t end up going but found this to be a good recent resource: tikitouringkiwi.com/watching-muay-thai-in-bangkok
Queen Sirikit Park, สวนสมเด็จพระนางเจ้าสิริกิติ์ฯ, 200/1 Kamphaeng Phet 2 Rd – Popular grassy park next to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, you’ll find locals having picnics or just hanging out under the shade.
Silom Thai Cooking School, bangkokthaicooking.com/2018/main/index.php, 6, 14 Decho Rd, $$ – Well run cooking class we found through Cookly. There is plenty of instruction and education. You do some of the prep and will cook your own food. There are plenty of photo opportunities as well. If you want to see the Silom market, book a morning class as the afternoon class market tour is pointless when the market is mostly closed already.
Siam Square One, 388 Rama I Rd – Huge shopping mall, the Alley Cafe is located here and we found a neat boutique called Labrador that has leather goods and craft products.
Palam Palam Bangkok, www.facebook.com/PalamPalamCafe, 176 Charoen Krung Rd, $$ – Cute modern Japanese cafe offering various drinks and a small food menu (of Thai food). A nice option if you’re near the water taxi port Saphan Taksin.
Dahra Spa (silom), dahra-spa.com/spa_promotions/our-monthly-promotions, 154, 8-9 Si Lom, $$ – Beautiful spa with really great online promotions. Their service was very professional and they’re very accustomed to dealing with tourists, so their English is fairly good.